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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Decoding the Monster Bill - Part 1

*Please note that when I wrote this post, it was originally based on the May 2012 draft.  There is now a July 9 draft and you can see the quick comparison here -

My Facebook and Twitter accounts have been flooded with updates and messages about killing the monster bill.  But I realized that not everyone really understood what it was.  You can read the text of the monster bill HERE.  The monster bill is a consolidation of 4 bills - namely HB3396 (Bondoc bill which is the good bill), HB3525 (Gunigundo Bill), HB3527 (Noel/Rodriguez Bill) and HB3537 (Mercado/Torres Bill).  Click the names of each HB to get to the actual document from the House of Representative (HOR) website. The HOR website also has a summary and flowchart on how a bill becomes law.

What happened in this case? The Gunigundo, Noel/Rodriguez and Mercado/Torres bills essentially had the same content.  These bills, including the Bondoc bill, were sent to the Committee on Health where they were consolidated.  Unfortunately, Cong. Bondoc is currently on leave due to a delicate pregnancy so her bill was overshadowed by the 3 "bad" bills and all 4 bills were consolidated into the monster bill.  The bill has gone through Committee hearings with the Committee on Health and is now with the Committee on Trade and Industry.  If the Committee approves the bill, it gets transmitted to the Plenary for numbering and voting.

So what is so bad about this bill?  This Manila Standard opinion summarizes the 4 major points while this Philippine Star opinion explains how the monster bill will wipe out decades of work improving breastfeeding rates in the Philippines.

As a working and breastfeeding mom, the top negative is the removal of the compensable lactation period.  Under Republic Act No. 10028, breastfeeding mothers are granted compensable lactation periods of 40 minutes total for each 8-hour working period.  Under the monster bill (Sec. 8d), this break is unpaid.  This makes me wonder why the group WOW-Mothers claiming to represent the more than 20 million working women in the Philippines, supports the passage of a bill which diminishes the rights of working mothers.  I am a full-time work out of home mother who utilizes my paid lactation break to express milk for my 6-month old.  Definitely, as a working mom, I am NOT for the passage of any bill which removes this benefit.

*Update: 2 August 2012
After Sen. Pia S. Cayetano released a barrage of tweets condemning the removal of a benefit:
Here comes IPNAP with their own statement that the removal of the paid lactation break benefit was part of "wayward construction".  Even if this "unpaid lactation break" provision is removed from the consolidated bill. there are still more reasons to oppose it.  Read below.

*Under the July 9 draft, this has become a "PAID" lactation break.
Next, the monster bill will allow health and nutritional claims (Sec. 35).  Remember those advertisements for gifted child, +7 IQ points, etc. If you notice, those claims are no longer found as they are prohibited under Section 16 of the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Milk Code.   Under this provision, "[a]ll health and nutrition claims for products within the scope of the Code are absolutely prohibited.  For this purpose, any phrase or words that connotes to increase emotional, intellectually abilities of the infant and young child and other like phrases shall not be allowed."

Recently, the Department of Justice upheld the decision of the Department of Health preventing milk companies from using their trademarked health and nutrition claims, and ruled that this was not a violation of their intellectual property rights.  The DOH issued this memorandum as they recognized that "milk companies are able to glamorize infant formula and breastmilk substitutes through false health claims and other attractive marketing strategies that are deemed to undermine breast-feeding."  By ruling for the DOH, the DOJ declared:
"Ipnap members companies, in the exercise of their property rights, also have a responsibility to the public.  Just because they have the marks containing health and nutrition claims trademarked does not mean that their use cannot be regulated for the greater good," the DOJ said.
The IPNAP must have known that the DOJ will be ruling against them and are exerting their full power and influence on our legislators to convince them to pass the monster bill.

The monster bill also seeks to allow donations of infant milk donations (Sec. 46) with the approval of the Inter-Agency Committee.  The monster bill's principal author - Cong. Rufus Rodriguez justified this by saying that milk donations were needed during the Sendong disaster which affected his constituents. On the contrary, as I will share in a future guest post, breastmilk donation drives are successful during calamities.   Donation of milk products is a Trojan Horse and it is clearly explained in the position paper prepared by the Save the Babies Coalition:
The donation of babymilk product is a marketing trap. Donating artificial milk products during emergency or in times of crisis in the guise of charity is a public relations media act for the multinational milk companies. In the long run, the government will purchase the next product supply when the indigent mother has abandoned breastfeeding consequently drying up her breastmilk production in favor of the product gift sample as starter. The immunological properties of breastmilk is forsaken. In the end, she has no choice but to settle for cheaper milk of any kind caught in a fix of respiratory disease, diarrhea and death. When this happened who is responsible for this malady? The donor milk pusher is scot free.
Established international standards during disasters and emergencies emphasize the promotion of breastfeeding instead of calling for donations of formula milk.  UNICEF's experience explains why the standard is such:
More damaging is the common donor impulse to send infant formula or breast milk substitutes to disaster zones, undermining breastfeeding practices already in place and efforts to get new mothers to nurse.
“Often, [donated infant formula] is one of the first things that come in,” said UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Christiane Rudert, “because there is a misperception that most children are already being fed formula.”
After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, formula donations sent to affected areas resulted in immediate decreased rates of breastfeeding and higher rates of diarrhoea and mortality among young children. Only a large-scale breastfeeding promotion programme – supported “down to the village level,” said Ms. Rudert – was able to offset the effects of formula.
With those standards, I do not understand how Cong. Rodriguez can say that his bill is an improvement from the existing Milk Code when all it seems to show is that the bill disregarded international studies and experience and will actually bring our breastfeeding rates and experiences back to the Dark Ages.  The prohibition on donations and gifts of any sort had already been established in E.O. 51 (Sec. 6) and its RIRR (Sec. 18, 19, 20, 51).  Again - it seems that the beneficiary of this provision is not the Filipino mothers but rather the multinational milk companies.

Part 2 on HERE.


next9 (Jen CC Tan) said...

this is such an important post to me. it clarified how bills are enacted in congress. i honestly didn't know it was this way!

we really have to make our voices heard, and let our congressmen know. will share so people can act now.

Alex Hao said...

Thank you so much for this! There's no way I could have figured this out if you did not explain it! I can not thank you enough!!!

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